“WITH YOSSARIAN YOU CAN INCREASE THE DIVERSITY AND FREQUENCY OF YOUR AH HA! MOMENTS.” OH REALLY?
Type “beauty” into Google image search, and you’ll see endless photos of white models. Search “beauty” in Yossarian, the metaphorical search engine, and it returns pictures of men shaking hands, a little boy dressed as a super hero, and burning money. Keep scrolling and new understandings of “beauty” pop up.
Compared to Google, the results seem random and confusing, but that’s Yossarian’s benefit, argues its creator J. Paul Neeley. “Google is an incredibly powerful tool, if you know what you’re looking for,” he told Fast Company. “But it’s really problematic in creative terms, if you’re trying to generate new ideas.” Staring at Google’s singular view of a given concept doesn’t exactly inspire. All queries go through the filter bubble–the algorithms that guess what we want, like Google autocomplete. Filter bubbles, the theory goes, lead to group-think and hinder creativity. And even on Pinterest, a favorite among creative types, the visual representations of ideas tend to converge on one definition.
A search engine that spits out metaphors, like Yossarian, however, can get people thinking about how to define a topic in new and interesting ways. “With Yossarian you can increase the diversity and frequency of your aha moments,” the site promises.
That’s quite the sell, and a rosy view of technology as something that makes us better people. Yet, Yossarian isn’t the first–and probably won’t be the last–technological attempt to make us more creative. (If that’s even possible.) Seenapse, a search engine that came out this summer, promises better brainstorming by bringing together disparate parts of the Internet. That might lead to new, interesting mental associations.
Neeley, along with two co-founders built Yossarian, which launched last month, based on some actual science: the widely held idea that visual metaphors help people think of original ideas. Neeley believes that “any supreme insight is a metaphor.” A handful of research backs up a milder version of that theory. One study found just showing people an illuminated lightbulb led to more creative insights. In another participants that looked at an image of a brain outside of a box literally thought outside the box. At the very least, seeing metaphors about creativity, leads to creative thinking.
Yossarian takes that idea a step further, suggesting that metaphorical images will lead to more insights. “Metaphors are really weird, they’re always patently false,” said Neeley. “If I tell you love is a river, the first thing your mind does is say ‘no, love is not a river.’ It takes a moment where you have a flip: Love can be a river, it can ebb and flow, it’s ever changing.” By scrolling through Yossarian, a person’s mind can get to that “flip” faster and more often.
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